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9 Steps to Start Freelancing the Right Way

June 30, 2021
New York, New York

In a recent podcast from the Wall Street Journal, a different kind of outbreak was featured in the episode “Why is everyone quitting? Workers, especially young ones, are leaving their full-time jobs in droves in search of more satisfying, more flexible and often more lucrative work. In fact, 2.7% of workers quit their job in April 2021, according to the podcast.  And freelancers are more in demand than ever before, as everyone from small businesses to large corporations hires freelancers for a variety of projects, ranging from copywriting and web development to catalog design and consulting.

Working as a freelancer typically means working your own hours ( remember, if you’re successful, you’re going to have a new boss: your clients) on your own terms. But it also means sourcing your own clients and managing an entire business yourself. 

If freelancing sounds like the right fit for you, this guide can help you. Below we outline 9 simple steps you should take in order to get started in your new career as a freelancer. 

1.  Set up a website. Establishing an online presence for yourself is important. Clients need to be able to look at your work and find you quickly. Maintaining a basic website is fairly simple. Nowadays, no-code platforms like Squarespace allow you to get a professional looking site designed and launched without any particular design or html expertise.

Remember that your website will need a well drafted privacy policy, terms of use and it should be compliant, at minimum, with the ADA’s laws on accessibility, the GDPR if you’re doing business in Europe, and the CCPA if you’re doing business in California. Subscription legal plans for small business sometimes include this legal work at no additional cost.

2.  Get a DBA, sole proprietorship or another entity. For most business entities other than LLCs and corporations, the legal name of the business is the personal name of the business owner(s). If you want to do business as “John Doe”, you can stop reading this section now, as nothing else is required. However, if you plan to do business under a name other than your own, such as ACME Digital Consulting, or if you want to set up a bank account under your business’s name, you’ll likely need a DBA. In this case, you’ll be operating as a “Sole Proprietor” and should become familiar with two tax forms: W-9 and 1099-MISC.

3.  Plan for taxes. Equally important to your choice of business structure (#2 above) is planning to optimize your taxes. Expenses on business meals, home offices, and mileage when you’re driving for business, among other items, can all serve to minimize your income – through deductions – and lower your tax liability. Understanding the tax impacts of these expenses will be important to your finance well-being, so start early. 

4.  Get your permits in place. In addition to a DBA, your state may have specific laws for individuals doing business. Research and obtain any state and local permits or licenses you’ll need for your business. Or check a site like NerdWallet that does some of the research for you.

5.  Order business cards and stationery. A significant challenge as a freelancer will be sourcing clients (more later). Online companies like VistaPrint offer inexpensive solutions for business cards and stationary, to give you a polished and professional look, and to make sure you make a lasting impression as your network grows. 

6.  Think about your future. As a freelancer, you’ll have to sort out your own path for retirement savings, medical insurance, dental, etc. Speak with your accountant or a financial advisor and set up a plan to make sure your needs and goals will be met and review websites like Value Penguin to see and compare health insurance quotes from a variety of insurers.

7.  The infrastructure plan. Without the right tools to perform your trade, your work product and efficiency will suffer. Freelancers will often tell you that while working at your leisure sounds glamorous, there are a few drawbacks. For some, the solitude can get lonely. Freelancers working remotely can’t talk to a co-worker between projects the way employees in an office can. On the other hand, freelancers don’t have to deal with office politics.
For maximum productivity, set up an in-home office, or find another place where you can focus and get work done. The absence of a boss down the hall may be a highlight; however, that just means you have to be the one to manage deadlines and productivity.

8.  Promote and network. Working for yourself means promoting yourself, and getting started as a freelancer can be very time-consuming. Online networks like LinkedIn permit you to publish your goals, ask questions, and network with other professionals.

But don’t stop there. Spread the word to friends and family that you’re venturing into freelancing and ask for referrals where appropriate.Set up a blog. A blog can help you connect with other freelancers and bloggers as well as potential clients. It will also help your website with search engine optimization (SEO) over the long term.

9.  Be an influencer. You don’t need a famous TV show or a massive social media following to be an influencer. You just need to own your lane. So figure out what it is, and get to work. Many times, asking and answering questions is the easiest way to get people involved and invested in what you do, and while you could meet 10 people during a networking event, you could meet 75 online. When you combine a strong digital presence with meaningful personal interactions, you’ll really see your stock rise. So get busy! 

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Working as a freelance entrepreneur can be intellectually rewarding and financially lucrative, but you need to build the right foundation from the beginning. Using this article as a guide to start laying that foundation can help you to later focus on your work, your customers and enjoying the flexibility you’ll gain from this important career choice. 

 

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